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What is chrysotile?

Chrysotile is a non metallic fibrous mineral that shares all the characteristics of asbestos, nevertheless with one big difference: the shape of its fibers. This difference is highly relevant, even there is a general consensus in the scientific community, as stated in the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 2007 report, which indicates that chrysotile and amphibole asbestos should be differentiated.

In Mexico, the use of chrysotile is regulated by several laws and standards, such as NOM 125 - SSA1-1994, which is supported by various authorities and institutions, such as the Ministry of Health through the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS).

Other governmental agencies like the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), also verify compliance with the regulations regarding the safe use of chrysotile.

Chrysotile is used intensively in the construction and automobile industries, thanks to the physical properties of strength and durability that can hardly be replaced by other materials.

Due to his great qualities, chrysotile has important applications, such as: construction industry (roofs and pipes) in the textile industry, (fire proof fabrics and clothing), automotive industry (clutches, brakes and suspension parts), as well as fire resistant products, like gaskets and seals.

In the construction industry, the chrysotile mixed with cement results in a high-density product for applications in ceilings and pipe lines. In this mixture, chrysotile represents about 8% of the components; the remaining of the mixture is cement and water that encapsulate the fibers in a homogeneous mixture.

It has been demonstrated, that high density products made with chrysotile, do not represent a health risk to the consumers, employees, suppliers, nor to the general population. Unlike the past, the current production processes in which chrysotile is used as raw material, are highly automated and are held in airtight and wet environments in order to avoid workers contact with the fiber.

According with Mexican regulations, all employees working in the industry are medically evaluated every year, as well as being trained continuously in the safe use of chrysotile.

Arising from the safety measures currently implemented by the industry, it can be ensure that there will not be any pathology related to the use of chrysotile.

Chrysotile, like all fibers and building products, could represent a health risk to workers who handle the fibers in an unsafe way and for a long period of time. The risk is reduced by applying safe cutting edge technology. Like other building materials, whose installation is likely to generate dust, it is necessary to use personal protective equipment such as safety glasses and respiratory protection.

Currently, there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking exposure to chrysotile as a cause of pleural mesothelioma, a very rare and particular kind of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, called pleura. By contrast, it has fully demonstrated this relationship between the mesothelioma and amphiboles, which is why its use was abandoned.

Chrysotile, secure fiber

As noted before, there are several types of asbestos which are divided into two groups: the amphibole and serpentine. The difference between them lies in the morphology of the fibers, while amphibole fibers are long and pointed, the serpentine, specifically chrysotile fibers, are curved and silky as in a helix .

Based on their characteristics, crocidolite, or blue asbestos was widely used after World War II in Eastern European countries It was applied by spraying on building structures that constitute a thermal insulator.

However, this type of asbestos and this specific application, constituted a real risk for both, workers and users of the buildings. This kind of application let the amphibole fibers came off and were constantly breathed by people. These shape pointed fibers, have a long biopersistence and passed the body's ability to be removed , which eventually led to various diseases. Both blue asbestos and friable applications have fallen into disuse.

Conversely, chrysotile easily dissolves even by weaker acids and is easily expelled by the body. According to recent studies by three leading toxicology laboratories located in Switzerland, Germany and the United States, have shown that chrysotile fibers are safer over other natural or synthetic fibers, such as cellulose fibers, aramids and ceramic fibers. The short biopersistence of chrysotile is significantly lower than the others fibers. For example, the human body takes to expel chrysotile fibers 10-15 days, while it takes 466 days to expel amphibole fibers and 1000 days to expel cellulose fibers.

Few people know that chrysotile, being a natural mineral found in two-thirds of the earth's crust, so these fibers are present in our environment, without representing a risk .

In this manner, it is important to note that the US EPA has agreed to review the document published in 1986, which relate health risks from asbestos exposure. This document does not makes difference between chrysotile and amphibole. Therefore, during the conference held in California in May 2001, the Agency accepted the need to update the issue and set a deadline of three years to study "in the light of new knowledge, especially in relation to the difference in toxicity between chrysotile and amphibole."

According to current scientific evidence, which includes numerous studies, including some with 20 years follow up, chrysotile poses no risk to health under the exposure limit of 1 fiber per cubic centimeter, as indicated by the Mexican Regulation in accordance with the limits set by the ILO.

Chrysotile, relevant facts

bullet Mineral

• "Asbestos" means "Fireproof" and is a term used interchangeably to refer to a "family" composed of natural mineral fibers.
• The use of chrysotile goes back to at least two thousand years ago. There is evidence ancient cultures like the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese used it since that time.
• The asbestos are well known by the great resistance to fire, friction, abrasion, chemicals compounds , microorganisms , as well as a thermal, acoustic, and electric insulating mineral.

bullet Natural Fiber

• Asbestos are composed by microscopic fibers which impart their physical, mechanical and therefore versatility.
• Being natural fibers, asbestos is found in the earth's crust, and the principal mines are located in Brazil, Russia, Kazakhstan and China.
• It has sought to match their features and performance with various substitutes, however to achieve this, it should be used more than 50 different inputs, whose response under specific conditions, such as exposure to high temperatures, is highly questionable, and its safety has not been demonstrated.

bullet Amphiboles vs Serpentine

• Due to the chemical composition and morphology of their fibers, asbestos are divided in two groups: serpentine and amphibole.
• Amphiboles are characterized because their fibers are elongated and pointed, such as needles.
• Despite being accepted and regulated by Mexican legislation, the industry stopped using amphiboles from 1986 and formalized this practice in 1996, signing a voluntary agreement with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare ( STPS ).
• The serpentine, have curves and silky fibers, within this category is chrysotile, also called "white asbestos".

bullet Chrysotile

• Chrysotile is a fibrous mineral non metallic that shares all the characteristics of asbestos, with one big difference: the shape of its fibers.
• This difference is highly relevant. There is a general consensus in the scientific community, as stated by the World Health Organization ( WHO) in its 2007 report , which indicates that chrysotile and amphiboles must be clearly differentiated.
• In Mexico, the use is regulated by several rulesrious rules, such as NOM 125 - SSA1, supported by the Ministry of Health.
• The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources ( SEMARNAT ) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare ( STPS ) , also verify the compliance with the regulation rgarding the use chrysotile.
• Chrysotile is used widely in the construction and automobile industry, taking advantage of its great features and physical characteristics, given a strength and durability, to the products: these features can hardly be replaced by other materials.

bullet Applications

• Based on their great qualities, chrysotile has important applications, such as building materials (roofs and pipes), automotive products (clutches, brakes and suspension parts), as well as fire resistant products, as well gaskets and seals.
• The use in the construction and automotive industries, is due to the chrysotile physical characteristics, which gives a great strength and durability, these can hardly be replaced by other materials nor natural or synthetic fibers.
• In the case of construction industry, chrysotile is mixed with cement to form a product called fiber cement which is used for high-density applications such as roofs and pipes.
• In this fiber cement products, chrysotile represents only about 8% of the mix; the fibers are "encapsulated" in a homogeneous mixture.
• It has been demonstrated thar high density products with chrysotile does not represent a health risk to employees, consumers or general population.

bullet Safe use

• Unlike in the past production processes in which chrysotile is used as raw material, highly automated and are held tight and wet work environments in order to avoid contact of the workers contact with the fiber.
• Complying with the regulations, all employees working nowadays in the industry are medically evaluated, as well as being trained continuously in safe use of chrysotile.
• according with the results of safety measures currently implemented by the industry, we can state that there will not be respiratory diseases related to the exposure to this chrysotile.
• The risk of Chrysotile, is minimized with highly automated production systems.
• As other building materials, whose installation is likely to generate dust, it is necesar to follow safety prodecures such as personal protective equipment.
• Currently, there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking exposure to chrysotile as a cause of pleural mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer of the lining of the lungs, called the pleura.
• By contrast, it has been fully demonstrated the relationship between the pleural mesothelioma and amphiboles, which was abandoned.